Crime & Courts

NC’s infamous Jeffrey MacDonald case has inspired another TV movie, airing Sunday

With Sunday night’s debut of the movie “Final Vision,” the Investigation Discovery (ID) channel offers its own version of what is arguably North Carolina’s most famous murder case.

“Final Vision” tells the story of the trial of Jeffrey MacDonald, the former Green Beret doctor convicted in 1979 of murdering his pregnant wife and two young daughters in their Fort Bragg home. The case got national attention and has been the subject of numerous books and movies. MacDonald is still in prison, and still insisting he’s innocent.

The ID movie is a twist on the most famous book about the case, “Fatal Vision” by Joe McGinniss. That book was made into an NBC miniseries in 1984 starring Gary Cole as MacDonald and Karl Malden as MacDonald’s father-in-law, Freddy Kassab. It focused on Kassab’s nine-year quest to bring MacDonald to justice. Andy Griffith played a prosecutor.

Dave Annable and Scott Foley
Dave Annable, left, as Joe McGinniss, with Scott Foley as Jeffrey MacDonald in the Investigation Discovery ID movie “Final Vision.” In the scene, McGinniss interviews MacDonald about his family murders. David Strongman Investigation Discovery/David Strongman

Scott Foley (“Scandal”) headlines the ID movie as MacDonald, with Dave Annable (“Brothers & Sisters”) as McGinniss. This version tells the story primarily from the point of view of McGinniss, a journalist invited by MacDonald to shadow him during his 1979 trial and tell his side of things.

McGinniss did shadow McDonald, but began to doubt his innocence and didn’t at all write the book MacDonald and his legal team wanted or expected.

Speaking of MacDonald’s legal team, local viewers will recognize a familiar name there: Raleigh criminal defense attorney Wade Smith. He was on MacDonald’s team – and at least as portrayed in the movie – not a big fan of McGinniss. Smith’s character gets much more screen time in the ID movie than in the NBC version (as I recall he was never identified in that movie at all). He’s played here by Lochlyn Munro, a very recognizable character actor.

Since the movie focuses on the 1979 trial, most of the action takes place in Raleigh, the site of the trial, with the defense team camping out in a rented N.C. State frat house. (The movie was filmed in Canada.)

As TV movies go, “Final Vision” is decent. Foley is more believable as MacDonald than I expected him to be.

But a warning about the a scene near the end that depicts a recreation of the murders as McGinniss believed them to have taken place: it’s one of the most gruesome and upsetting reenactments I’ve ever watched. I definitely recommend the movie, but keep that in mind.

Brooke Cain: 919-829-4579, @brookecain

‘Final Vision’

▪ “Final Vision” airs at 8 p.m. Sunday (Dec. 10) on Investigation Discovery. You can find ID locally on channels 76 and 138 on Time Warner Cable/Spectrum; channel 260 on AT&T UVerse; channel 339 on Google Fiber; channel 192 on Dish; and channel 285 on DirecTV.

▪ “Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald: People Magazine Investigates,” which tells the story through interviews and archival footage, follows at 10 p.m.